Archbishop Justin invites all gay bishops to Lambeth 2020 - but refuses to invite their spouses

The real global excitement about Lambeth 2020 is that all gay bishops are invited. Well, this may not be the most exciting news about Lambeth 2020 but it is certainly a revolutionary move compared with Lambeth 2008.

For some reason, I failed to notice this really significant change in Josiah Idowu-Fearon’s blog which dealt with the ultimately less significant need to clarify the misunderstanding about which spouses are not being invited to Lambeth 2020 and why.

The really big news, of course, is that all lesbian and gay bishops are being invited, whether or not they are single or partnered, celibate or “sexually active,” overturning Archbishop Rowan’s refusal to invite Gene Robinson to Lambeth 2008 because he had a spouse.

It’s also significant that it’s Josiah, a Nigerian bishop, who issued the clarification. Inviting partnered lesbian and gay bishops is no longer a problem for a Nigerian bishop. Josiah says that the Conference organisers recognise “that all those consecrated into the office of bishop should be able to attend.” That’s a total reversal of the Lambeth 2008 policy, a policy then designed to appease the GAFCON axis – and they still refused to attend.

So the red line has been moved, from not allowing partnered gay bishops to not allowing the spouses of partnered gay bishops. Why? Josiah’s blog says the reason is that the Anglican Communion no longer has a problem with bishops who are gay, nor with gay bishops who are married. The really critical issue now is the “Anglican Communion’s position on marriage which is that it is the lifelong union of a man and a woman.” Bishop Josiah referred to the position as set out in Resolution I.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference. Given this, he said, it would be inappropriate for same-sex spouses to be invited to the conference. Lambeth 1.10 was cited in 2008 as the reason Gene Robinson was not invited.

This is another huge shift, from prioritising a person’s sexuality and sexual activity status as the issue dividing the Church to identifying the Church’s teaching about marriage as the key dividing issue. Really? Is this going to make any difference to the decision GAFCON makes about whether or not, as a block, they will attend Lambeth 2020? I doubt it, in which case the policy is both pointless and futile.

This is obviously the Church of England’s red line at the moment. It’s not a red line in Scotland, Canada or the USA. It is likely to be a red line in Nigeria, Uganda and Sydney for the foreseeable future. So has this repositioning of the red line happened merely to satisfy the needs of the Church of England?

Josiah may have been the person who clarified the positioning of the red line and the resultant misunderstanding about not inviting certain spouses but it is Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is doing the inviting, and who is therefore responsible for this act of unnecessary discrimination. That’s why he was the person having a series of private conversations by phone or by exchanges of letter with the few individuals to whom this applies. It applies to two spouses – that’s one phone conversation and one exchange of letters. One is Becki Sander, wife of the Rt. Rev. Mary Glasspool, bishop assistant in the Diocese of New York. The other is Mohan Sharma, husband of the Rt. Rev. Kevin Robertson, Bishop Suffragan in the Diocese of Toronto. Kevin said the refusal to invite his and Glasspool’s spouses is “hurtful” and he found it quite offensive. Mary Frances Schonberg wrote about this in detail on the Episcopal News Service web site.

Archbishop Justin should be held to account

The person to hold to account for this prejudiced injustice is Archbishop Justin, but none of the English LGBTI+ networks, OBOF, the Ozanne Foundation, the General Synod Human Sexuality Group and the LGBTI Mission, has been willing to name the Archbishop and challenge his decision.

The Bishop of Liverpool has nailed his colours to the mast by announcing that he and his wife have decided that to make a point about the injustice of this, she is not going to accept her invitation to Lambeth. She may well be very relieved not to have to attend. I would take the Bishop of Liverpool more seriously were he to have written an open letter to Archbishop Justin, telling him the decision not to invite lesbian or gay spouses is unjust and challenging him to overturn the decision.